“The truth is shrouded in darkness…no, it’s buried in a grave.” -Humpnie Humbert
With Kami no Inai Nichiyoubi past its introductory arc and fake-out ending, very little has been actually revealed about the strange world in which Ai wanders, and even more mysterious is her role as a gravekeeper. We have already seen a few gravekeepers in action first hand, but how they are designated and where they come from are still unexplained. If there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that Ai is just as uninformed as the viewer. All that she and we seem to know is that the type of burial shown here is a more natural burial, lacking embalmment and the concrete base of which modern burials consist. Graves are dug by hand and shovel, and bodies placed in lined, wooden coffins with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
(Spoiler in red font)
Categories of Existence in Sunday Without God
This forsaken world to which we’ve been introduced is populated by a variety of existences that for all intents and purposes appear human. Very little actually distinguishes the separate categories from one another, with muddy puddles of morality spreading across them all. As of now, we have been informed of a handful of entities, including God, humans, the walking dead, an exceptional immortal, and the gravekeepers.
I’m not sure how reliable the information we’ve been given is, since I find the narrator and whatever explanations have been given by our characters strangely untrustworthy. While the existence of a higher being, or “God“, seems accepted by the cast–a truth supported by the changes in the world–I’m loathe to believe that after making all the intricacies of Earth, whatever power that is would just abandon them. If this God does exist, then I would dare to say that the world is better off without such a fickle entity.
It’s made clear from the start that the world in which we now wander was once very different. Humans could give birth and find permanent rest in death. But ever since heavenly abandonment fifteen years prior, no one is born and no one who dies stays truly dead. These walking dead feel no heartbeat, watching as the flesh decays and somehow continuing to move. Over time, the light of humanity begins to fade, and a single obsession for self-preservation takes over.
With the polar opposites of rested dead and human, there are two irregularities represented by Humpnie Humbert and Ai. Humpnie is an immortal, utterly incapable of being killed through physical means, yet possessing human warmth and rationality. He attributes his immortality to a single wish he made for his days to forever continue. A second miracle occurs at the end of the third episode that raises another question regarding his inability to die and the deaths of other humans.
And there are the gravekeepers, the messengers of true death who are neither human nor dead. With Ai as our main example of this category, it’s difficult to get a grasp of what these beings are actually like. The only other comparisons given so far are her mother, Alfa, and Scar. While Alfa appeared to be more emotional, Scar is apathetic towards her role and the attitudes select others carry for gravekeepers. Her interaction with Humpnie reveals an indifference to the many names she’s been given, such as “Scar”, “Murderer”, “Grim Reaper”, “Monster”, and “Stubborn Bitch”, all given with a slight smile to her face and an almost cheerful voice. As Humpnie further elaborates,
“This is a real gravekeeper–a paragon of virtue that’s completely devoid of emotion….Only a real gravekeeper can kill people. Only when a gravekeeper shovels dirt onto their bodies do the dead truly die.” (Valley of Death II)
The Mystery of the Gravekeeper
Despite Scar’s affirmation of Humpnie’s description of her kind, Ai’s very existence, as well as that of her mother, defy his definition. His subsequent surprise at the validity of Ai’s abilities casts doubt on the previous quotes. So let’s examine the class even further from the first three episodes that have aired so far:
- Gravekeepers display exceptional strength
Ignoring Ai’s diminutive size and Scar’s femininity, both women are able to shovel giant mounds of dirt without much exertion. When threatened, they respond with surprising ferocity and quickness. Or am I assuming this?
- They are the only ones to possess the ability to lay the dead to rest–seen as an oily sheen in the air
From the very beginning, we see a strange gold shimmer around Ai. Other than her tools and that visual indicator, there isn’t much that differentiates them from live humans. So far, all three women we’ve seen also share extremely long hair.
- The shovel appears special, unbreakable
We do get a glimpse of other tools that are used for preparing graves at the start. Along with the age old tools of shovels, pickaxes, spades, and wheelbarrows, there is also one unnaturally shiny and intricately designed shovel that Ai carries with her wherever she goes. It seems to be the symbol of her profession, as Scar appears to have the exact same model. Since gravekeepers were supposedly given to mankind as a final miracle to putting those who want true death into the earth, where did these shovels come from? And how does one even become a gravekeeper, since Ai’s inheritance sounds like an anomaly? I also find it interesting to view the shovel as a mini-god of sorts, especially in light of the title of the first arc, “Valley of Death.” Consider this under a Christian interpretation with Psalms 23:1-4,
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
God looks like it has been replaced by the gravekeeper, the gatekeeper to true sleep.
Scar and Ai display represent interesting juxtaposing human reactions towards the gravekeepers. For Scar, the attitude doesn’t differ too much from our own history of gravediggers and others who handle the dead. Those positions were traditionally held by the lower class, who were also viewed as tainted and unclean. Humpnie’s phrase “paragon of virtue” almost sounds mocking given the many derogatory names that Scar has. The exception to this seems to pertain solely to Ai’s village, where an entire population of dead continued to conduct their daily lives to the point that Ai was able to overlook their true state. It’s as if that self-preservation transferred to the little gravekeeper. Even more shocking is that moment when one of the villagers actually protects her with his body from physical harm. Whether that affection came about from strong protective feelings or were affected by Ai’s half-human, half-gravekeeper state will probably never be discussed. I look forward to seeing her in prolonged interaction with other groups of undead.
Into the Grave: Other Real Life Options after Death
I mentioned briefly at the very start that burial in Sunday Without God is completely natural. This archaic method has actually gained ground recently with the dissatisfaction many people have for the high cost and potentially harmful procedures–embalmment, cremation–to preparing cadavers. In today’s natural burial, biodegradable bags and caskets are used and the body left untouched, so as to encourage decomposition into the earth. I’m going to go away from the anime and more into some of the interesting methods I read about when looking into today’s whole funeral process.
A few years ago, I read Mary Roach’s 2004 text Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, and the penultimate chapter, “Out of the Fire, Into the Compost Bin,” covered additional alternatives to the norms. Also discussed were tissue digestion/water reduction and human compost. Water reduction entails the complete dissolution of body tissue, so that only a small percentage remains in a pile of dry, brittle bones. This school of thought is also called “resomation”, or “bio-cremation”.
Human compost is another highly debatable method that entails separating the body into parts and breaking it down via manure and wood shavings in a garden bed that must be tilled regularly for almost two months (264-265). While families may find the idea of mixing their loved ones in with animal waste and mixing body parts around with a hand tool until they fully return to the earth horrific, I prefer the more environmental and romantic view. The formerly live human is now giving further life to the soil, perhaps finding new breath in a sapling that may grow many, many more years than its predecessor’s lifespan.
For further, maybe morbid!, methods, check out: http://www.livescience.com/15980-death-8-burial-alternatives.html